Everywhere I looked online this weekend, Star Wars collectors were pissed off. From early spring Sept 4th was deemed THE day to celebrate the launch of the merchandise for “The Force Awakens” and press released promised toys galore. All retailers kept what was actually coming under wraps to cloak it all in secrecy in order to build excitement. The couple of weeks beforehand images started surfacing online, leaked products found their way on ebay, and even though fans were not thrilled about the basic 5 points of articulation figures that were coming, they were desperate to get their hands on them and experience the magic of a new chapter in our favorite Galaxy Far, Far Away.
For those who attended the midnight releases, many came out pissed off, and near empty handed. It was like Black Friday for geeks and the only victors were the scalpers. I for one have never done the midnight toy release thing. I live in Phoenix, it’s still over 100 degrees here in Sept, I’m not standing in line w/ a bunch of sweating fanboys bitching over how much they hated the prequels and how they’re expecting the sequels to be SOO much better without George at the helm. Yeah, no thanks.
Instead I waited until daytime on the 4th to see if I might find anything. I knew my chances of finding anything would be slim at best, particularly since I waited until evening to venture out. I mentioned a couple of possible locations to my sister to head to that were very far and out of the way and she immediately shot me down, “I’m not driving that far.” So instead she suggested a Target branch that was up the road from us rather than the one right in town (which I dismissed because the store was small and I knew it would be picked clean.) The Target we went to was out of the way, not directly off of the freeway, however I didn’t have that high of hopes.
When we got inside and got to the toys my sister was dazzled by the giant talking stuffed Chewbacca (who was adorable.) I thought the giant talking display BB-8 was adorable too, then I looked at the racks. I was utterly unimpressed by the complete lack of figures. There was one 6″ Chewbacca that I immediately passed on since he looked exactly like the standard release from a while ago. They had a few of the Jakks Pacific 20″ figures including Poe Dameron. I contemplated picking him up but ultimately passed since I wasn’t sure yet how (or where) I was going to display my TFA collectibles. I did find 12″ figures of Finn and a First Order Stormtrooper that I picked up. And they had Rey w/ her Jakku Speeder 3 3/4″ figure. I also found a Lego version of this as well.
I felt sad.
No remote control BB-8’s, no Rey figures, no Pop! Figures to be seen anywhere, just tons of micro machines and other kids interactive toys that didn’t interest me. I was feeling so down, I almost picked up a Chewbacca Nerf Bowcaster since Nerf wars are big at my office. I put it down though, I don’t collect weapons, I like figures.
Wandering around the store my spirits lifted as we reached the far back corner – back by the remnants of the school supplies were a few hidden racks of Star Wars stuff! I found a 6″ Black Series Finn (Woot!) a Pop! Finn figure, a Poe Dameron 3 3/4″ figure, and Rey’s speeder micro machine. They had some other stuff, like TFA Monopoly (that I REALLY want,) and they had a Luke Skywalker Potato head but I knew I had surpassed my spending limit and after confirming that nothing else good had been squirreled away anywhere I left with my purchases. My sister bought a Vader T-shirt.
Even though I know I did better than some people did, I felt bad, I really wanted a couple more Rey items. I desperately wanted her 6″ figure w/ BB-8 and a Pop figure. The rational part of my brain kept saying “don’t worry, it’s not like they’re not going to make more.” But the part of me that wanted to be a part of the frenzy was annoyed.
Later that night I started perusing online to see what might be available. I was dismayed to see Target, TRU, Walmart, and KMart had ZERO TFA toys left. The Disney Store was out of their cool 6″ die cast figures. They had a few things, but I was now no longer interested. Target being out of everything sucked in particular since they had a $25 off of $100 coupon that was utterly useless since they wouldn’t even let you back order things.
I then climbed into the scum and villainy of ebay to see if maybe I could score a couple of things there. Lo and behold I found where all of the scalpers from midnight ended up. Really folks, BIN of $25 + shipping for the Titanium Micro-Machines Rey Speederbike that I picked up retail for $4.99? I rather thought $4.99 was a rip off, much less $25. I did manage to find a Hot Topic Exclusive Rey Pop! Figure at a decent price (I didn’t even know that exclusive was out there) and I got a Rey ring that Walmart gave out. I then put a 6″ Rey on pre-order online and my TFA weekend was over.
So the real question is what the hell happened? Why were retailers so sorely under stocked? If you think being a fan who didn’t get merchandise sucked, think of the kids out there who might’ve actually wanted toys, had to wait until they got out of school, and found nothing on the shelves. The retailers put out everything that they had, gave a 3 per item limit per shopper, and then had nothing else to put out when the shelves emptied. All of the employees had no idea when they would be restocked.
There are likely several factors into the under estimation of interest in the toys.
- Slow Sales: The last 2 times that there were big toy event days were for “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” – both toy lines were drastically cut after the disastrous over glut of merchandise from “The Phantom Menace.” Sales even then were pretty weak. And no, it wasn’t because the hate-boys bitched over the prequels – it was because of the economy. 2002 and 2005 were right in the prime of the big Recession. Jobs and money were scarce during that time and overall extra spending ground to a halt across the board. People just didn’t have the money for collectibles, in fact during those years, it was a boon for people with money because many collectors had liquidated their collections in order to make ends meet. These are the sales numbers that Hasbro would’ve been looking at along w/ Clone Wars sales over the years between. Kids just didn’t get toys during the Recession, they were a luxury item that parents couldn’t afford.
- Kids today aren’t playing with toys. Well that’s what people WANT you to think. Let me rephrase that, kids who are in upper middle class families whose parents have extra income still aren’t buying their kids toys. They’re giving them phones and video games as means to keep them quiet and busy and have toys that don’t make messes. Lower income kids have some toys and they love toys, but their parents can’t afford tons of them. I hit thrift shops all of the time as a hobby and every kid who enters a store is in high heaven making a giant mess of the toys in the store. Why? Because they likely don’t have them at home.
- Collectors BITCH. I read a blog post somewhere where a guy was talking to a Hasbro rep about the 7 POA 12″ figures and the blogger said “well nobody wants those…” the rep in turn said, “No, collectors don’t want them. They are in fact a corner stone of our merchandising market that we can’t go without.” All new collectors have the 12″ figures in their collection, they’re big, cheap, indestructible, great molds, and they’re a great value for the money. The cheaper 5POA 3 3/4″ figures are also designed for kids. They remind me of the vintage original figures. Vintage figures today look as good as they did back when Star Wars first came out – they took a beating and maybe are discolored and lacking paint but for the most part they’re in good shape still. The hugely articulated 3 3/4″ figures from recent years? I always find those at thrift shops in pieces. They’re fun to display but they are not great for kids to play with. The more articulation also means that the figures will be priced higher – which is always met w/ pissy groans from completionist collectors. Fans like the 6″ Black series line, but the cost keeps a lot of people from diving in. Whether they groan over prices, mold likenesses or even packaging styles it never seems that collectors are happy. It’s no wonder Hasbro doesn’t know what to do to satisfy them considering the fans themselves really don’t know what they want.
- Big Box Retail overall is a dying breed. All of the big box type stores are dying. Even Walmart and Target which always seem to be doing well w/ their packed parking lots report huge financial losses each year. If you look closely at the shelves you’ll see not many items of anything in particular are ever available. KMart is on it’s way under with locations closing (including sadly the one by me.) Target is closing down a ton of locations up in Canada. The big box stores are scared to have too much merchandise on hand that they might have to discount and later sell at a loss.
What if anything has changed? The biggest thing that Hasbro and Disney/LFL has failed to take into consideration is that the economy is much improved over what it was back in 2002-2005. People have more disposable income than they did 12-9 years ago. Fans who sold off their vintage collections are duking it out online to win back the toys that they parted with when they needed to pay bills or downsize their living arrangements during the Recession.
People might not be making tons more money, but jobs are steadier, and we’ve learned to budget. Collecting is one of those things that if you’re stressed in life, getting a new item to add to your collection really can make a crappy day much brighter. They’re also forecasting another enormous bad winter for the Middle of the US and East Coast. Bad weather is great for collectibles sales. People are stuck inside, they spend time wanting to fill holes in their collections as a bright spot during bleak, dark winter days.
More merchandise will be coming to restock shelves. We still have only heard of a handful of higher end collectibles that are planned, plus we have yet to see anything Han, Leia, Luke related. BB-8 has already proven to be a monstrous hit – I’m expecting more merchandise surrounding him to be released. Let’s just hope that Hasbro, Disney, and LFL realize that demand is high and that they crank out enough merchandise to fill the needs of their loyal fanbase who made the Star Wars Empire as grand and long lasting as it is today, because the Force has awakened and fans really would love to empty their wallets to get a piece of it.